Sunday, 17 January 2010

Henze - Elogium musicum Barbican Immersion

Barbican Henze Phaedra reviewed above. Oddly enough, the most radical thing about the Barbican's Hans Werner Henze Total Immersion Day came in the talk by Paul Griffiths. Henze himself promotes the idea that he's an outsider, in conflict with Darmstadt, Lachenmann, Germany and so on. True, any decent artist has to be an outsider to become an original,, so there always will be differences. Luckily, there's little danger that Henze will be turned into the poster boy of redneck regression, because his music is modern (not that regressionists actually listen). Griffiths states, quite simply, that there are many kinds of modernity, which interact and influence each other. Perhaps one day, we'll be able to escape the simplistic either/or school of music history, and appreciate modern music without preconceptions. Then, perhaps, Henze will really come into his own and be appreciated, not for who he isn't, but what he's really achieved.

I wish i had time to find a good painting by a German master of an Italian villa, glowing in the sunset, for that would express so much about Henze, and Elogium musicum (2008), which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday 18th and available for repeat listening for a week. Make time to listen to this because it's a fascinating work, which I think will grow with repeat listening. (Beware though of some of the commentary, which is ludicrously daft). Its full title is "Musical Elegy for a Most Beloved Friend now Departed" for it's a tribute to Henze's beloved Fausto Moroni. They'd been together 40 years. Bernie Gavin's film "Memoirs of an Outsider", shown earlier in the day, was pretty much hagiography, but it included footage of Moroni smiling and content, an aspect of him captured forever on film, more enduring than the other honeyed "talking heads", respected as they are.

Elogium musicum isn't gloomy, but sunlit. Just as Italian sunsets last a long time, and the walls of old buildings emit warmth long after the day has gone, Moroni's memory lives in Henze's creative soul. Even the structure is beautifully self-contained, built in four parts, equally balanced. Within each part and between them, there's a flow which swells and subsides creating a sense of onward movement. In The Falcon the words recall "two falcons shining birds of fleetest force", sudeenly forced apart. But time moves inexorably forward. The Adagio predicts a future, of "Sweet tenderness, the sight of young men, beautiful as sacred images, eyes of opal, black she-panthers, a secret tranquil retreat".

Henze also creates movement through textures: dense chromatic chords giving way to moments of lucid purity, and then back. It feels like wandering through a forest, entering glades, the journeying. Even when the orchestra is in full flow, you feel aware of individual instruments in the mass. The large choir sings at first in unison, then parts to low male and high female, so the idea of density and open glades follows through to the vocal part. Again, a sense of movement, a kind of pulse that comes from within the form, that leads towards the apotheosis of the finale.

Goethe found himself when he escaped to Italy: he returned to Weimar a changed man. Turner discovered new ways of painting light and colour. Even pathologically repressed John Ruskin learned something from the stones of Venice. This dichotomy between Northern and Southern Europe has inspired art for centuries. It's a beneficial flow. One day, perhaps, Henze's place in music history will be appreciated as part of this ongoing process. And 20th century music understood as a movement towards plurality, not a banal either/or polarity.

Don't forget - listen to the broadcast! The premiere of Elogium musicum took place in October 2008, with Riccardo Chailly, an Italian acculturated to the north, for what's that's worth: national stereotypes mean little. It's not Italy or the North per se that makes a person but how they assimilate different things. Most creative people grow because they're open to new experiences.

This Henze Total Immersion Day concert also included Henze's Fourth Symphony, a good pairing with Elogium musicum , because that, too, develops the idea of movement through changes of texture and chromatic density. Oliver Knussen and the BBC Symphony Orchestra have Henze in their blood, so this was a free-flowing reading, livelier than Henze's own recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker, more than 40 years ago. Huw Watkins played four Henze piano works with sparkle and grace. He's a composer too, of some note. Indeed, the Barbican on this evening was packed with other composers, conductors, performers. Big names in the audience, and good ones, too, if any further evidence was needed to show how significant this concert was. Henze himself was there, looking frail but chipper. How gratified he must have been to see such a well-filled house. He turned and applauded the audience, even looking upwards, to the balconies.

Please see 14 other posts on Henze and several more to come, including Phaedra both Barbican and Berlin

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